Jollof Rice in West Africa is head and shoulders above other meals. Spicy, red-hot, aroma-filled, toothsome, alluring and delectable, Jollof Rice has been a darling to its beneficiaries from Nigeria to Ghana, and Senegal to The Gambia. This dish however does not only manage to twine itself with the appetizing adjectives alone. It has a penchant, too, to polarize and this is apparent when considering the perpetual storm in a tea cup that it embroiders among the West African countries has to who, on the one hand, is the progenitor of this dish and, on the other, whose Jollof is more superior.
These squabbles have seeped into pop culture and we see spats intersecting tiffs in songs, TV and virtual shows, tweeter wars, articles, cooking competitions, skits – and simply everywhere. Ghanaians claim that the combination of their Basmati Rice and black pepper is insurmountable while Nigerians retort that their very own spicy, chicken fried, polished or parboiled rice sets the Thames on fire. Ironically, Senegal, arguably the least involved in this “Jollof War”, is perhaps the originator of this dish.
Known as Benachina, there are pointers that this tantalizing dish is a produce of the Wolof people, a major ethnic group of the Senegambia, who had had early contacts with foreign settlers and traders, and had inadvertently mastered their industrious nature and willingness towards expansion. Extending cultures and exchanging cultures was therefore not a devil of a job for the Wolof and the smoke of their once humble Jollof has whistled beyond oceans and valleys, igniting itself into a fire at the foot of foreign pots.
Meanwhile, discussions and debates about the origins of Jollof Rice will, it appears, remain more in the place of theories than in facts as a result of the lack of ample, binding documentations and citations as regards the beginnings of many African heritages and history, particularly in terms of subjects that have now evolved and have been translocated. In such cases; that is, in the face of the earlier mentioned problem which is of a fundamental sort, there is bound to be a degree of variance when matters of origins arise.
Therefore, I believe and I advise that it is more exciting and rewarding that we discuss what is in Jollof Rice that gives it a god status among other dishes. You would agree with me, would you not? Jollof Rice is special not least because it allows for a variety of condiments that vary from person to person and from country to country. Onions, bell pepper, tomatoes, black pepper, green pepper, groundnut oil, butter, fried beef, chicken, and probably a hundred other dressings could decorate and fit with this dish. They could be fried, boiled, slashed, meshed or sprinkled – every move, every choice of spice, every combination creating a specific but special relish.
In Nigeria, for example, Jollof Rice is the be-all and end-all of most parties. Nowadays, the expression “Party Jollof” is a thing. This kind of Jollof, “The Party Jollof” retains an even special status amongst Jollofs as a result of its smokey, cauldron cooked, fiery fired concoction. In fact, People have been known to visit parties uninvited just to have a taste of this savoury meal and if possible take some away. At those moments, the cost and integrity of hand bags become irrelevant in the face of spices possibly staining linens and oud fragrances giving way to an everlasting smokey aroma. I, for one, would take that chance.
Similarly, In Ghana, Jollof Rice takes an integral place as chief among dishes. Open stalls have the dish at the core of their menu, parties serve it, Ghanaian women who have been known to be epicures dazzle with it, the men simply love to eat it, and at its sight the children are chuffed to bits. The Ghanaian choice of rice for preparing Jollof has been known to be different from that of their Nigerian counterparts and this suggests a possible difference in the thrill, taste and texture. In any case, Ghanaians, like other West Africans, adore their Jollof. It is safe to say that Jollof is to Ghana as spice is to India.
In Senegal, the mouth-watering dish holds a relatively less status and rouses less raucous in comparison with the other West African countries. However, it still features as one of their favourite meals and their ability to experiment with it, as original owners of the dish – theoretically – means that they cannot be written off if a Jollof Rice battle ensues among the Western African territories.
Furthermore, Jollof rice retains its indispensable status because of its ever tasty and spicy feel. Who would have thought that grains of rice could, when mixed and mastered by proper hands with the proper ingredients, etch such feel good potions on the streets of the mouth and on the memories of the tongue? Jollof Rice, with the help of its allies that cling stately to the majestic thing; allies as beefs, chicken, green peas, carrots, salads, fried plantain, spaghetti, curried goat, egg, Moi-Moi, Shito (a form of Ghanaian pepper), and many others, would shock your taste buds. Every spoonful represents a dose of amazing release of pure savour and charm. No wonder Cardi B, the Grammy award winning rapper, on her visit to Nigeria in 2019, admitted that she needed to have a taste of the much talked about dish. “I want all that Nigerian food…all that Nigerian Jollof Rice”, she revealed.
Even so, this dish, with its ability to generate mutual interest as seen in the Western African clime, is yet to properly infiltrate the world community despite its indubitable potentials to become a genuinely global recipe. Of course, with strategic search, you will find Jollof Rice at a restaurant on the streets of London or The USA or within the bustle of Asia; nonetheless, there should be more strategic planning and deliberate efforts by the African governments, the Nigerian government specifically, to harness the opportunities that this delicacy possess both economically and materially. Thus, a caveat: the sweet taste and subtle spice of Jollof Rice alone will not make it a major African export but a deliberated planning can.
Elsewhere, it will remain a burning question, a drive to the Sphinx’s helm, as to who makes the most superior Jollof Rice in West Africa. However, it is convenient and no less expedient to agree that the sought after dish maintains an indispensable place in the schematics of food in West Africa. Each region with its special recipe and ingenious methods that ensure that the dish never disappoints. Each cook with his specific ingredient, variation and level of veneration that altogether endorse the place of Jollof Rice as a ritual, an item of culture and cultural significance.
This dish sells its tantalising taste like drugs. It whispers aromatic soliloquies to any stranger and or denizen who would listen. And they get their fix. They get their fix from its smokey relish, basking in euphoric waves of delicious intoxication. Jollof Rice, it is a West African treasure.